Lea Stolowicz: Giving Google Israel global influence

Lea Stolowicz credit: Eyal Itzhar
Lea Stolowicz credit: Eyal Itzhar

“Once we showed we were good, and the product was good, the company gave us Israelis more responsibility."

Lea Stolowicz - Senior Product Manager at Google

Personal: 39 years old. Lives in Tel Aviv.

Education: Holds a BSc in computer science and an MA in economics from Tel Aviv University. Served in Unit 8200.

One more thing: As a teen , she helped found the Poleg branch of the Maccabi Hatzair youth movement. Stolowicz loves the sea, and at age 32 began surfing and windsurfing.

Lea Stolowicz was a talented eighth-grader, taking courses at Bar Ilan University so she could pass the matriculation exams early, and start undergraduate studies by tenth grade. That is, until someone named Efrat Hakika [now Bata - N.T.] approached Lea and her friends, looking for kids interested in setting up a branch of the Maccabi Hatzair youth movement in their neighborhood.

That was when Stolowicz - who would find herself, some 20 years later, in high-ranking positions, specifically as a senior product manager at Google - created her first product: the Maccabi Hatzair branch in Netanya’s Poleg neighborhood. "I didn’t have time to do both," she says. "I knew the Bar Ilan track would advance me a lot, but my heart was in setting up the movement. I felt that the kids in the neighborhood were bored, and I really wanted us to do something new with values that would contribute to the community. It was one of the few times I really followed my heart, and I think it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made."

They were 13-year-olds, ten girls and two boys, who worked hard and invested their free time in opening the branch. "I devoted all my energy to it in high school," Stolowicz notes. "I learned so much there about leadership, entrepreneurship, friendship, cooperation. We helped bring our secular neighborhood closer to the religious youth movements, we held meetings with the young people in the neighborhoods in Netanya where members of the Ethiopian community live. The group of girls who founded the movement are my closest friends to this day, they’re just like family."

Stolowicz brought the same spirit of entrepreneurship to Google as well. "Before I joined the company, when someone did a word search, they got regular search results. Together with the team, we essentially created an information box that displays the definition of the word at the top of the page" she explains. Google decided to adapt this model, now deployed in 40 countries with different designs and new tools, to other areas, such as sports and weather.

But perhaps the most important thing that needs a reliable definition is what Stolowicz now deals with: Covid-19. "We set up a team that worked quickly with local and global health organizations to give users the most reliable information." She notes that her team has a staff member who is responsible for all things Covid-related, and that its management center is in Israel.

Stolowicz, 39, was born in Uruguay, immigrated to Israel as a baby with her parents, and grew up in Netanya. She was sent to Mexico and Peru for two months as a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "Young Ambassadors" program, and, after finishing high school, enlisted in signals intelligence unit 8200. "I got to 8200 without understanding where I was going, because I had no one to consult - there were no 8200 graduates at my youth movement branch, and my parents were immigrants," she says.

After the army, she studied in the Adi Lautman Interdisciplinary Program for Outstanding Students at Tel Aviv University, graduating with honors with a bachelor's degree in computer science and a master's degree in economics. She worked at Verint as a developer, and then as a strategic consultant at McKinsey Israel. After that, she joined Google as a junior product manager, with 40 programmers and developers under her. "Nine years ago, product manager was a new and undefined field. I chose Google because I felt it would be the best place for me to develop," Stolowicz says. Nine years later, she is considered one of the top managers at the company today.

A few years ago, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Google Duplex at the company's developer conference, and demonstrated its ability to book restaurant reservations using the Google Assistant voice function. "That also began here in Israel," says Stolowicz. She joined the Duplex team after the presentation, and from the demo phase on, has been leading the team activating the tool in the US. Google states that today, the technology makes tens of millions of calls per month to all restaurants in the US.

One of the important messages Stolowicz wants to convey is the fact that Israel can be a leader in these areas. "I would like us to be able to manage more projects from Israel in the future," she says. "I started the teams from scratch and the Israeli team proved itself. Once we showed we were good, the company made more of an investment and made us responsible."

In retrospect, Stolowicz says of herself that she could have been bolder, and would have liked a stronger feminine presence around her. "As a woman in high-tech, I can say that there are definitely more women than ever," she concludes. "But I’d like to have closer contact with good and ambitious women, so that that will influence me and make me stronger."

Executive recommendation

Assaf Rappaport, co-founder and CEO at Wiz:

"I met Lea when we worked together as strategic consultants at McKinsey. Her special combination of creativity, determination, deep technological understanding, and ability to listen to customer needs, has enabled her to lead teams that produce groundbreaking products, and grow from zero to hundreds of millions of users a day worldwide. When international companies like Google or Microsoft are willing to hand the reins over to Israel, that is a real revolution which makes Israel's development centers their most strategic centers. Lea succeeded in doing that at Google in three different areas which, to date, employ more than 150 workers: Search for weather and sports, the Duplex personal assistant, and, most recently, the most important and relevant field: providing access to reliable information about the coronavirus, at record speed and at the head of Google’s search results, in more than 200 countries around the world."

 This article is part of a larger project, "40 under 40", published by "Globes" in Hebrew.  

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 27, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Lea Stolowicz credit: Eyal Itzhar
Lea Stolowicz credit: Eyal Itzhar
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